Bar-tailed Godwit

October 14th, 2019: Thanksgiving shorebirding!

I was happy to back able to get out for part of the day on Thanksgiving in absolutely perfect fall weather. We’d had a Thanksgiving lunch (my wife’s suggestion) so I was able to spend the afternoon and early evening down in Delta. This gave me a catch the shorebirds at high tide and hopefully to get a better look at the continuing Bar-tailed Godwit.

You won’t be surprised to find out that I started at Reifel. I was still trying to see that darn Black Phoebe: a rarity that has continued to elude me for over a month. I’ve tried to find it 3 different times now. And today was no different for me, even though other birders found it in the southwest marsh (a weird spot for it). Still, Reifel is always a treat. It was lovely to see so many families out with their toddlers chasing after the ducks, before being immediately told not to.

Looking out across Reifel's north marsh
Looking out across Reifel’s north marsh

I was pleased to see 45 species at Reifel this afternoon. Not a big number, but lots of new waterfowl arriving in force now (15 waterfowl species today). This included at least 4000 Snow Goose, absolutely cacophonous on the flats. Doubly so whenever a raptor buzzed them.

Snow Geese flushed off the mudflats in the distance
Snow Geese flushed off the mudflats in the distance
Thousands of Snow Geese take to the air; thousands more stay on the flats

I was thrilled to see a flock of 34 adorable Cackling Goose (among Canada Goose) in the southwest pond. The smallest cacklers are a little bigger than a Mallard and a have a much smaller beak:head ratio than a Canada Goose. Usually, one or two Cackling Goose will show up in large flocks of other goose species. To see this many in their own group is somewhat unusual.

Reifel's southwest pond
Reifel’s southwest pond
A few Cackling Geese in a flock of 34 (note the daintier appearance because of the smaller heads and very short bills)
A few Cackling Geese in a flock of 34 (note the daintier appearance because of the smaller heads and very short bills)

Other highlights at Reifel were a lone Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Hermit Thrush, 6 Long-billed Dowitcher, 2 Belted Kingfisher, and a pair of (late) Blue-winged Teal (eBird list).

One of many juvenile Cedar Waxwing at Reifel today
One of many juvenile Cedar Waxwing at Reifel today
A female Belted Kingfisher stalks her quarry
A female Belted Kingfisher stalks her quarry

But the tide was coming up, so I needed to head out to Boundary Bay. A brief stop at 96 didn’t yield a lot, so I headed over to 104. There, I met up with several other skilled birders and we scoured the flats with our scopes.

Tons of shorebirds at Boundary Bay, but lots of waterfowl way out there too!
Tons of shorebirds at Boundary Bay, but lots of waterfowl way out there too!

Between us we turned up a ton of great birds! The bulk of the large flock that kept accumulating at the base of 104 had (estimated very conservatively): 1000 Black-bellied Plover, 2000 Dunlin, 500 Sanderling, and 150 Western Sandpiper. The group kept moving closer and closer to the dyke as the tide came in. It’s always interesting to me to see where different species place themselves: from a few inches of water, to several meters away from it, and everything in between.

Let's play "Find the 'Marwit'" (Marbled Godwit). This one sticks out among the smaller grayer Black-bellied Plover and towers over the Dunlin and Sanderling. Plus it's in the middle...
Let’s play “Find the ‘Marwit'” (Marbled Godwit). This one sticks out among the smaller grayer Black-bellied Plover and towers over the Dunlin and Sanderling. Plus it’s in the middle…
Okay now find the American Golden-Plover. It's smaller than the Black-bellied Plover and bigger than the Dunlin and Sanderling. Here you can see its characteristic broad supercilium (eyebrow) and you can see a fair amount of black in the 4 or so primaries that are jutting out behind it.
Okay, now see if you find the American Golden-Plover. It’s smaller than the Black-bellied Plover and bigger than the Dunlin and Sanderling. Here you can see its characteristic broad supercilium (eyebrow) and you can see a fair amount of black in the 4 or so primaries that are jutting out behind it.
Ready for a harder one? Can you find the Willet among Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, and Dunlin? Hint: It's slightly bigger and plainer gray, and it has a longer beak...
Ready for a harder one? Can you find the Willet among Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, and Dunlin? Hint: It’s slightly bigger and plainer gray, and it has a longer beak…

Of course, we didn’t just see these 4 species (eBird list). Mixed in with them, we found some Least Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, a Pectoral Sandpiper, Red Knot, Pacific Golden-Plover, American Golden-Plover, Marbled Godwit, Willet, and…Bar-tailed Godwit! It was a good ways east from 104 (toward 112), but well in view through the scope. What a bird!

Shorebirds and Mt. Baker
Shorebirds and Mt. Baker

I could easily make out the plain light brown-gray of the bird overall. Plus its two-tone beak with a very pale pink base and strong supercilium were clear. Even its barred tail was visible in some postures.

A Bar-tailed Godwit at Boundary Bay: note the strong supercilium and you can just make out the barring on the tail
A Bar-tailed Godwit at Boundary Bay: note the strong supercilium and you can just make out the barring on the tail

Mostly it stood, motionless with its bill tucked away. But it did forage in the shallow water a little before the sun set. You’ll get no complains from me! I hasten to add that Bar-tailed Godwits are some of the (if not the) most long-distance travellers. In 2007, one bird was tracked one a non-stop(!) flight from western Alaska to New Zealand. She set a new known flight record of 11,680km (7,258mi)!!

Here you can see the conspicuous two-tone bill of the "Barwit" and observe its larger size compared to the Black-bellied Plover
Here you can see the conspicuous two-tone bill of the “Barwit” and observe its larger size compared to the Black-bellied Plover

Weirdly, the most unlikely bird I spotted today was a very late Semipalmated Sandpiper. They’re relatively common through most of migration. But it’s so late now that one of our trusty eBird volunteers sent me an email asking me about the sighting. (Thank you to all of those volunteers for helping to keep the excellent eBird database shipshape!)

Boundary Bay at 104 at sunset
Boundary Bay at 104 at sunset

So many great birds at Boundary Bay again today. This place is truly a wonder…

Boundary Bay birds at sunset
Boundary Bay birds at sunset

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